How to Take Short, Meaningful Breaks

| March 3, 2021

As most Homewood students have heard, the Spring 2021 semester will not include an extended spring break in order to reduce the COVID risk posed by travel. Instead, the academic calendar will include five days of holiday distributed throughout March and April.  

For me, the week-long Thanksgiving break in November was a much-needed reprieve from Zoom fatigue and pandemic-induced stress. While this new measure is necessary for reducing the spread of COVID-19, it may make it difficult for some students to find time to take a step back this semester.  

Once our first round of midterms begins, the assignments seem to never end. It can be easy to slip under the building wave of work and stress until our last final is finished.  

That being said, taking time off can reduce stress and increase your productivity. While a daily break is not nearly as long as a week’s worth of holiday, a few hours can restore some balance and be a good opportunity to pause and reflect. Here are several ways to take meaningful, short breaks this semester:  

  • Sleep. This is intuitive, but it’s still important to point out. Consistent, sound sleep is generally the resulof good sleep hygiene. If you are struggling with poor sleep and exhaustion, try some of these ideas. 
    • A healthy sleep schedule for both the weekdays and the weekends starts at 7 or more hours a night. While it may take time to adjust to, setting a fixed time can help you prioritize and maintain good sleep.
    • Establish a good balance between napping and sleeping. Naps have several benefits in a learning environment. However, the grogginess from a long nap can outweigh the benefit, so plan to nap for only 30 minutes and try to get a good night’s sleep. 
    • Adjust your surroundings. Your sleep environment and habits can have a big impact on your quality of sleep. Change your sheets, pillows, and room temperature to what is the most comfortable. Limit your exposure to loud noises and bright lights at night; try using earplugs and a face mask if necessary. 
    • Set aside 20 minutes for relaxing before bed. Put your phone or work away and listen to music, read a book, or do something that helps you wind down. 
  • Make something. You can journal, bake, craft, draw—it doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s not too demanding. Productivity and creativity can be good ways to feel fulfilled and are important factors of psychological well-being. These simple activities can also help reduce stress and improve your mood. 
  • Change up your routine. Go somewhere in Baltimore that you haven’t visited and take advantage of the JHU-provided outdoor gathering spaces (while following university guidelines). If you are taking classes from home, getting some distance from your home learning environment might also be helpful. Try sitting outside for a few hours at your local café or park and finishing some work. 
  • Reach out to help others. There are a lot of virtual volunteering opportunities that you can participate in to care for others and that can benefit you as well. Volunteering can counteract stress and make you happier overall. If this is an activity that speaks to you, try it—you might find it surprisingly rewarding. The Center for Social Concern can be a great place to start. 
  • Connect with people close to you. Sometimes, with all of the group meetings and assignments, you might skip socializing with people outside of a class or work-related setting. Take some time to meet with close friends and family, either virtually or inperson (if you can do so safely while adhering to local and university guidelines). 
  • Pause. If you find yourself catching up on work during your days off, try to take at least a few moments for yourself with some microbreaks. Microbreaks are moments interspersed throughout the day that can be an effective way to restore after completing long stretches of monotonous tasks. Particularly when we have to spend a large amount of our workday on our laptops, these breaks can include small activities or exercises that temporarily redirect your attention. Some examples include standing up and finishing a short task, grabbing a cup of coffee, and focusing on something 20 feet away from your work view. Typically, you should take microbreak every 20-40 minutes of doing a continuous task, however a microbreak ranging anywhere from 1 to 9 minutes is equally effective. 
  • Stretch. One of the most accessible ways to take a quick break can be to stretch. Getting up and moving, particularly in green environments, has been shown to increase attention. Research suggests that spending time in nature for 120 minutes a week can promote cognitive stimulation and wellbeing. Aim for at least 20 minutes a day, but feel free to spend some more time outside if you want!
  • Breathe. Take a moment and practice deep breathing and relaxation. While this activity may seem simple, clearing your mind and focusing on breathing can make a big difference in your well-being. Take advantage of your Hopkins sponsored premium account on the Calm app for guided breathing and meditation practices.  

Finding activities to do right now might seem difficult given the pandemic, but hopefully these ideas can guide you to finding something beneficial to do this spring break. We, as a Hopkins community, need to normalize an environment where it is okay to struggle and to take time for yourself. There are a lot of circumstances that are out of our control this year (even more than normal). In the end, making it through this semester will be about finding the right balance. This may sound cliché, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.